This week I’m interviewing Laura Stanfill, author, founder of the literary imprint Forest Avenue Pressin Portland, Oregon. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here. This is the final instalment. Find her on Twitter as @ForestAvePress
Roz How much do you consider an author’s platform when deciding whether to offer on a manuscript?
Laura Our submission readers do consider marketing potential, whether the author has relationships with well-known authors who might blurb, and—most importantly—whether the author has built genuine community and relationships with indie bookstores.
We don’t measure social media account followers or anything of that sort, though.
Roz Speaking of which … You’ve built a great relationship with authors and bookshops and a supportive community within the writing world.
Laura I moved to Portland in 2001, founded a writing group at a local bookstore, and then proceeded to watch the literary scene and write fiction for 10 years. I didn’t know how to engage—or that I should engage. I didn’t realize I could speak up, or be part of the community, besides as a witness. When I founded the press, I built on those years of being present on the scene, and that credibility helped me earn respect, blurbs, and consignment deals with local bookstores.
Roz I follow you on Facebook and often see lovely pictures of you at your authors’ readings.
Laura Showing up and listening and supporting others is important, of course, and that’s really how I built my community. I founded my press nearly six years ago now, but I also had that decade of being present, of walking into indie bookstores and listening. Going to other authors’ and presses’ events is still very important to me. I encourage writers not only to show up at events, but to say hi to the people sitting next to them, to introduce themselves to the presenting author(s) when they ask for an autograph, and always bring business cards.
Roz What about the Main St Writers Movement? (Reader, if that’s familiar to you, you might have seen it here.)
Laura I founded Main Street in February 2017 to urge writers to support each other at the local level—and their indie bookstores—as a way to strengthen the literary ecosystem. The movement crystallized out of the core values I have as a publisher. One component of Main Street is amplifying underrepresented voices. If your voice is well represented, or if you have social capital, use your voice to direct attention to stories that need to be heard. Don’t hog the mic; pass it. Don’t take up all the space with your words; leave space for others. We’re in this together; we need to have parades for each other and celebrate each other’s achievements. This is an anti-competition movement, a togetherness movement, and quite frankly, a quest to get writers who want to establish professional careers to actually support publishers, literary magazines, and booksellers, which strengthens the industry and then in theory creates more space for more voices. It’s really, at its most basic level, what I’m doing to fight the erosion of reading culture.
We have a Main Street pledge and newsletter, which is on hiatus right now, because I’m focused on a publishers’ speaking tour. I talk about community at every gig, no matter what the topic. Then I challenge my audience to do something: attend a reading at an indie bookstore, or volunteer at a school, for instance. I’ve been to Pasadena, Tucson, and several Portland events already this spring promoting these values and trying to inspire others to do this work too. Because a movement isn’t about a founder; it takes all of us.
Michael Ferro, author of Title 13 (Harvard Square Editions) has been quoted publicly about reaching out to me for advice, only to have me connect him with publishing community members in his own city, Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s a great example of what Main Street can be, because he took the example I set and is now passing on what he knows to others. If we all reach out and share what we can, we’re going to uplift each other.
Roz Michael Ferro? Small world. I saw that post, tweeted it, we then got chatting on Twitter and he’s writing a post for The Undercover Soundtrack. I love what we can do simply by saying hello.
Any advice for an author thinking of setting up a publishing house?
Laura Figure out your business model, your distribution method, your initial number of titles, and the cost of running the business for the first two years. Don’t forget to factor in printing costs, mailing costs, design software, freelancers, Internet access, and everything else you’ll need to make your business run. You’ll find helpful and accessible information in Joe Biel’s forthcoming People’s Guide to Publishing: Building a Successful, Sustainable, Meaningful Book Business, forthcoming in late 2018 through Microcosm Publishing. If you want to do some reading right now, Thomas Woll’s classic Publishing for Profit is a great resource.
Laura – thanks so much. This has been fascinating, inspiring and empowering. Guys, you can find Laura at the Forest Avenue website, on Twitter @forestavepress, on Facebook and on Instagram.
Meanwhile, in my own little literary world, if you’re curious to know what I’m cooking up, here’s my latest newsletter…
2 thoughts on “Movements, movers and shakers: publishers and authors as literary citizens .. an interview”
I like this part: “We’re in this together; we need to have parades for each other and celebrate each other’s achievements. This is an anti-competition movement, a togetherness movement…”
Writing is often a solitary activity that can engender a sense of isolation and the mistaken belief that we are alone in our struggles. I may be an introvert who is perfectly happy in my introversion, but I’ve discovered that sharing my passion for writing with other writers has been unexpectedly rewarding and, best of all, fun. My wife and I have both noted that our favorite people are book people (readers and writers): they see beyond themselves, which is becoming a rare trait.
I also liked this part: “If we all reach out and share what we can, we’re going to uplift each other.”
I think “share what we can” is an important phrase here. The example Laura sets is impressive and wonderful (and exhausting), but being supportive doesn’t necessarily mean organizing something or taking on responsibilities. We aren’t all cheerleaders. Simply showing up to offer a smile and applause as part of the audience is enough. If you feel compelled to contribute more, so much the better, but at the end of the day, your presence counts as a thumbs up for the event and its principals.
Well said, Daniel – and thank you for all the thumbs you’ve raised here!